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Media and Mahabharat—Aaina Dramatics’ Street Play

‘Aao aao, natak dekho—come, watch the play!’

Members of Aaina Dramatics drew the crowds with their chanting to witness their street play, Media Par VaarAaj Ka Samachar. The energy was palpable on this pleasant Friday night as it is with any nukkad natak. By 8:15 PM, the stage was set, the crowd was filled with anticipation, but the actors were nowhere to be seen. They eventually arrived at 8:35 PM in a burst of noise and energy, eyes blazing,

The play began with a throwback to the epic Mahabharata. The actors showed that, in a way, the events of the Mahabharata were the original ‘scoop’ and Narada Muni, the original media person. The play then panned forward to a modern-day journalism class where students were struggling to understand the true meaning of journalism, tainted as it is with the blight of fake news. There was a humorous instance of confusion over whether or not the new two-thousand rupee notes were installed with electronic chips. Suddenly, a student had the brilliant idea of calling upon Narada Muni to help him navigate the current state of media in the country.

The play took the audience through a series of situations highlighting how the news media has deviated from its purpose of conveying true and relevant stories to the general populace. It touched upon examples of how politicians can manipulate the media and the absolute irrelevance of discussions such as Anushka Sharma’s influence on Virat Kohli’s cricket. They also portrayed the tale of a girl who was kidnapped and sold into prostitution, bringing to the front the plight of many sex workers in the Sonagachi district of Kolkata. Their heart-wrenching stories are ignored because prostitution is felt to be too ‘negative’ an issue to be aired on the news. The issue of farmer suicides was also broached, along with the media’s refusal to tell the poor man’s story.

Are we really thinking about what the media shows us? (Cartoon by Don Addis)

The play ended with a question posed to the audience—“Is it only the media that is responsible for the decline in the quality of journalism? Is the audience not complicit as well?” The audience, after all, is what drives TRP ratings and demands the kind of news that media bodies supply. The dramatic conclusion of the play was awarded loud cheers and applause. The character of the mischievous, dreadlock-adorning Narada Muni was well-appreciated, especially his signature chant of ‘Narayan, Narayan.’ The chilling portrayal of a poor farmer convulsing on the gallows in the throes of death also stunned the audience.

According to Khushveer Sharma, the President of Aaina Dramatics, their main aim in every production is to make the audience aware of what is happening in the world around them. This play was especially close to their hearts as they performed it at the ‘Theatre Olympics’ at the National School of Drama. With this street play, they also wanted to generate a bit of publicity for MILAP—Manipal International Literary, and Arts Platform—which featured an interesting array of dramas in its programme. Despite the initial delay, the play seemed to win over the hearts of the audience with the pure passion and skill of the actors and crew members.

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